Review | Umboi Island (Creature X Mystery # 3), by J.J. Dupuis

UmboiIslandCoverUmboi Island is probably the most action-packed of the Creature X series, and also the one most likely to translate well to a screen adaptation. In this instalment, Laura Reagan and her team fly to Papua New Guinea to investigate reports of the ropen, a bioluminescent pterosaur. Added to their crew is a creationist, whom the producer brings on board to spark debate about evolution. And also on the island is a team of scientists from the UK, who are there to investigate plant and animal life of the non-cryptozoological kind.

The murder mystery takes a while to set up; it’s not until about a third of the way through that a body is discovered. But Dupuis does a good job keeping the pace quick before that point: beyond reports of a mysterious glowing light in the sky, Laura and her crew deal with reports of drug smugglers in the area, and Laura’s colleague Lindsey has to deal with encountering a very unwelcome blast from her past. Like many good mystery writers, Dupuis both expands the scope of his plot, and raises the stakes for his series characters. The victim and circumstances behind the murder hit close to home for the film crew, and the investigation leads to a much larger and more complex story than Laura ever have guessed. The best part for me is that Dupuis ends the novel with some loose threads about a mystery surrounding one of the villains, and it’ll be interesting to see if Laura and her crew encounter that villain again in a future instalment.

Umboi Island is a good novel, with a solid mystery, rich setting, and lots of action. I personally preferred the second book, Lake Crescent, but I think that’s because I’m more a fan of cozy mysteries than action-adventure stories in general. I loved the intimate scope of Lake Crescent‘s mystery, and how very personal the murder and the villain’s motives felt. Umboi Island, with its core cast of about a dozen characters and all the talk about possible drug smugglers and organized crime, is just less my cup of tea.

I also wish we’d spent more time with the pterosaur mythos. While Lake Crescent took its time introducing us to Cressie and all sorts of stories around her, I felt like the pterosaur subplot was treated almost perfunctorily here. The ropen got the characters gathered together, but even with the quotes from scientific journals and a couple of potential sightings, I didn’t quite feel as immersed in its story.

That being said, if Roanoke Ridge felt like a fun Scooby-Doo romp, and Lake Crescent felt like an Agatha Christie tale in a small town bar where a grizzled old bartender delights in spinning tales, Umboi Island felt most like a Nancy Drew / Hardy Boys mystery adventure for grown-ups. There’s a lot of Nancy Drew’s intrepidness and daring in Laura, and the mystery itself felt a lot like something Frank and Joe Hardy would have tackled. Dupuis also deepens Laura’s and our relationships with his characters; I especially love how Saad becomes less a sidekick in this novel and more an action hero in his own right.

Dupuis’ love for martial arts comes through in his fight scenes; the sequences are choreographed with such care and precision that you (or at least I, with my rusty karate memories) can imagine the moves working in real life. As a former karate student, it’s a pleasure to see how Dupuis takes us through his characters’ thought processes during the fight sequences — within seconds, Laura analyzes her opponent’s position, determines their next move, and strategizes how best to respond. It’s the chess mode of self-defence, and a great way to leverage the medium of a novel to show a side of fights we don’t get to see on screen.

Overall, while Lake Crescent is still my personal favourite in the series, Umboi Island is a strong entry in the series, and in some ways, possibly even the best entry. Certainly, it feels the most bold and confident, narrative-wise, and It’ll be interesting to see where Dupuis takes the series and its style from here. The ending of the novel also hints at a change-up in some of the series regulars, and a pivotal turn for Laura’ herself, so whether Dupuis continues in this action-adventure vein or takes us back to the more intimate feel of his earlier work, the next instalment promises to be big.

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Thank you to Dundurn Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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